PM taps navy to head off illicit migrant 'surge'
The government plans to consult with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) before deciding on the status of nearly 850 detained Rohingya migrants, Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra says.
A Rohingya migrant receives a health examination at a detention centre in Songkhla's Sadao district. TAWATCHAI KEMGUMNERD
The government will not return or relocate the Rohingya migrants for the time being, Ms Yingluck said after yesterday's cabinet meeting.
She said the Foreign Ministry would discuss the matter with the UNHCR before taking action.
"First thing is we have to take care of them. Next is to discuss [the plan of action] with the UNHCR," she said. "We will have to discuss it with [Myanmar] and a third-party country."
Surapong Kongchanthuk, an expert on stateless people and migrants for the Lawyers Council of Thailand, urged the government to ask the UNHCR to verify the status of the migrants.
He said once the migrants are verified as refugees it will be easier to relocate them to a third-party country.
"And if they want to be sent back home, their safety must be guaranteed," he said. "They shouldn't be left at the border to find their way home because they will end up victims of the traffickers."
He also called on the government to find out whether the migrants were victims of human trafficking.
The prime minister yesterday instructed navy commander Surasak Rounroengrom to head off the influx of Rohingya migrants. More than 840 Rohingya migrants have been rounded up in three raids in Songkhla's Sadao district over the past week.
Ms Yingluck said some of the migrants might join the southern insurgency rather than seek asylum in a third country.
Adm Surasak said the navy would step up operations to keep the Rohingya migrants from coming ashore.
Vice Adm Tharathon Jitsuwan, commander of 3rd Naval Area, said it is part of the navy's job to curb smuggling of contraband goods, drugs and illegal migrants.
Naval interceptions of illegal migrant vessels will result in the migrants being returned to their country of origin or to a third-party country, he said.
"We do provide them with humanitarian assistance," he said.
Several women and children are among the detained migrants.
The migrants use Thailand as a transit point to seek jobs or asylum elsewhere, and are often exploited by human traffickers, he said.
He said the 3rd Naval Area was working closely with the Internal Security Operations Command Region 4 and police to look out for human trafficking networks.
Earlier, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung said authorities were investigating the influx of Rohingya migrants.
Immigration staff would be held to account if they were found to be involved in human trafficking, he said.
Lt Gen Paradorn Pattanathabut, secretary-general of the National Security Council (NSC), said the Department of Special Investigation and immigration authorities are also looking into the surge of illegal migrants.
The case is not yet considered a human trafficking crime, he said.
Lt Gen Paradorn said the Social Development and Human Security Ministry is being asked to help because women and children are among the migrants.
In the past, most Rohingya migrants have been men, he said.
Meanwhile, two more Rohingya men were rescued yesterday while wandering in the woods along the Songkhla-Satun border.
The pair were found by locals who took them to a mosque in tambon Chalung in Songkhla's Hat Yai district. The men did not have any belongings.
They told local authorities they were originally in a group of 30, including women and children.
They said they split from the group two days ago after being abandoned and robbed by the people who brought them into the country.
It is believed the group was abandoned after authorities stepped up security following the arrest of the other three groups.
Police yesterday issued a warrant for the arrest of Sarok Kaewmaneechote on a charge of providing Rohingya migrants with accommodation. The suspect was identified as the owner of a house in Padang Besar municipality where 139 migrants were detained on Sunday.
Police are still hunting for two men in connection with the Rohingya migrants.